Wicker Touts State’s Progress in Disaster Preparedness

Mississippians Can Count on Better Communication Networks, Infrastructure, and Information

September 4, 2018

We are well into the current hurricane season, but preparing for the next big storm occurs year-round.  Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, and ever since, our communities have diligently sought to reinforce the public safety tools we need in case disaster strikes.  Those tools include reliable communication, stronger infrastructure, and accurate forecasting. 

State to Benefit From FirstNet Program

In December, Mississippi formally joined the nationwide plan to build and deploy a secure and reliable wireless communications network for our first responders in times of emergency.  The effort, launched by Congress in 2012, is known as the “First Responder Network Authority,” or FirstNet.  The basic idea is that first responders should have access to a wireless network that they can depend on for communicating with each other and retrieving critical information.  Our state is already working to do its part with the continued development of the Mississippi Wireless Information Network system and the recent groundbreaking of an integrated public safety communications center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Fire Departments, Schools Receive Support for Important Upgrades

Alongside reliable communication is a need for continued upgrades to the equipment and infrastructure that our first responders use.  As I recently announced, more than a dozen grants for new equipment or additional emergency personnel have been awarded to fire departments in communities across our state.  Those include grants to the Biloxi Fire Department to hire nine new firefighters, to the Columbus Fire and Rescue Department for a new pumper truck, and to the Iuka Volunteer Fire Department for a new fire truck and personal protective equipment. 

Another important public safety grant will support roof hardening projects at eight schools in Harrison County.  These schools suffered damage from Katrina, and this retrofitting will allow them to sustain up to 180 mph winds.  The reinforced infrastructure also enables the schools to serve as “shelters of last resort.”  Above all, we want these buildings to keep our children safe.

New Advancements in Ocean Technology

Information about dangerous weather continues to be one of our most valuable tools for preparedness, and the technology we have to collect this information is more advanced than ever.  We remain grateful for the fearless Hurricane Hunters at Keesler Air Force Base who fly into a hurricane’s eye to retrieve and measure weather data for storms.

The advancement of unmanned maritime systems is also paving new ways to gather accurate, real-time data above and below the sea.  I am pleased that the Senate recently passed my legislation to encourage an expanded use of these systems by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The “Commercial Engagement through Ocean Technology (CENOTE) Act” would harness marine technology across the government, academia, and the private sector for a wide range of applications, including disaster preparedness and recovery.

The benefits of these investments in communication, infrastructure, and technology will reach far beyond hurricane season, strengthening the work of first responders in any emergency.  Keeping our communities safe happens long before the arrival of a severe disaster.